Ricin, etc.

Virginia Berg Virginia.Berg at uni.edu
Wed Feb 11 20:32:01 EST 2004

I have read (but not tested) that all parts of the plant are highly 
toxic from ricin. If this is true, it is amazing anybody uses it as an 
ornamental plant. The oil from the seeds does not contain the 
water-soluble ricin, but the crushed seeds do. Personally, I would try 
to find something else to experiment with in a classroom. It seems 
politically charged now, as well as physiologically dangerous. One 
hysterical parent....

An interesting side note on oils from toxic seeds: I was in a remote 
region in NW Nepal (seen in the movie "Himalaya" [or "Caravan" in 
Eurasia]), and watched local people washing semi-rotted apricot pits 
before removing the seeds. They extract oil from the seeds. I asked the 
people if they did anything with the remaining meal after the oil was 
extracted, and they said no, it was toxic, so they couldn't even feed it 
to the animals. As the laetrile promoters know, apricot seeds are an 
excellent source of cyanogenic compounds. At least the villagers where I 
was weren't trying to use it to cure cancer.

--Gini Berg

William E. Williams wrote:

>Dear Plant-Eders,
>We're about to introduce a phloem assay using Ricinus into our 
>introductory biology sequence, and of course the question of toxicity 
>has come up. The web references I've found are somewhat 
>contradictory, saying on the one hand that ricin is synthesized only 
>in the endosperm and thus only present in the seeds, but on the other 
>that aphids forced to feed on the leaves die rapidly, presumably 
>because of ricin poisoning. Of course we'll advise the students to 
>wear gloves and keep hands away from their mouths and avoid 
>contaminating areas of skin with open sores, etc., but does anybody 
>have a definitive reference on how poisonous parts of the plants 
>other than the seeds are?
>We're also having trouble getting much phloem sap. Any suggestions 
>about where to cut, optimal plant size, growth conditions, etc.?


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